The staff and students of the 2017 Battlefields of Europe Tour, pictured on a ridge overlooking their final battlefield stop at the Falaise Gap region, France.
Battlegrounds of Europe: Days of Heroes and Immortals
By: OCdt Eliza Bruce, (III, CSC), 27472
This year, the History Department once headed up the Battlefields of Europe tour, and the selected participants, consisting of 28 students and 12 staff/faculty members, visited importance battle grounds, memorials, cemeteries, cities, and villages vital to the turning points of the First and Second World Wars, France and Belgium, from February 18-26. No sooner did the whole group touch down at Charles de Gaulle airport than they loaded onto a bus and were off to their first destination at the battlefields of the 1916 Battle of the Somme, beginning with Beaumont Hamel, where a serious massacre of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment took place July 1, 1916.
This was our team’s first serious time superimposing what we had learned in tailored history lectures leading up to the trip onto the ground where it took place. We began to look at the importance of space and geographical zones used for advantage in tactical assaults, and for the first time in 14 years the ravine where the German army had dug in was open for viewing. Our group continued its journey into the past with stops at the very fields where over one hundred years ago fearsome and bloody war was waged, and now they are all grown over with trees, grass, and crops. Scraps of metal, WWI fence posts, and sniper bunkers are now left scattered in Farmer’s fields and backyards, along coastlines, making the French and Belgium countryside latent with scars and edifices of war. The cemeteries we visited were riddled throughout the cities and villages, on back roads, in the middle of no-where, all standing as stark testaments to the devastation of war, and leaving a profound impact on our minds.
Major stops, parks, monuments, and cemeteries included: Thiepval, Pozières, Courcelette, Adanac cemetery, Mémorial d’Arras, Mont Saint Eloi, La Targette, Notre Dame de Lorette, Vimy, the German battery at Farbus, Menin Gate, Essex Farm, The ‘Brooding Soldier’, the Passchendaele monument at ‘Crest Farm’, Cimetière ‘Tynecot’, Frezenberg, Amiens, Hangard Wood and Cachy aerodrome, the beaches at Dieppe, (Pourville and Puys), Cimetière Saint Aubin, Varaville, Batterie Merville, Pont Pegasus, the beaches at Juno (St Aubin, Bennières, Courseulles), Beny sur Mer, Arromanches, Abbaye Ardennes, Point 67, Verrières Ridge, Ferme de Beauvoir, the cemetery at Bretteville-sur-Laize, Point 140, and the entire areas of the Falaise operations, and closed with visits (and photo ops) with both a Sherman tank and a Tiger tank.
In all, the team was swept through an invigorating and richly historically narrated journey to some key spots in a fury of motion, cultural tastes, and an overload of sights and emotions. Everyone will agree that price of war, the impact of the dead—both allied and enemy—was where the trip really hit home. In the cemeteries and on the memorials we would see the names of officers and soldiers our age and younger, who fought for ideals such as Truth Duty Valour and now we cannot think of that motto the same way. At times like this we had to come to grips with the sheer futility of some campaigns, and yet responsibility and courage it took for the men and women fighting and serving to keep on amid awful conditions, even after devastating massacres and tragedies; this was always lightened, however, by the knowledge that in the big picture, liberty was afforded to those countries afflicted by or involved in the Wars.
There were two staff members (Bryan Bailey and Joel Anderson) who found relatives in cemeteries. Others in the group found family names, and even the graves of war poets, all of which brought the significance of the events and the deaths that much closer to our lives.
We met, during our travels, many of the older French and Belgium generations, who carry the tradition of respect towards Canada’s service, and have a great desire to share and preserve their stories about the Wars. We left a bit a Canada behind by holding several flag ceremonies and replacing worn Canadian/elemental/Quebecois flags, or providing them where there were none previously, at specific memorials, and both these and simple services at various cemeteries and memorials were accompanied by readings of both French and English war literature and poetry, as well as the playing of bagpipes.
By the end of the trip, everyone could identify how it had affected them personally. Everyone experienced a fundamental shift in their mentality towards their future roles as officers in the CF, the college, and their perspectives/philosophies on life. Our observations shaped our minds to dynamically envision and anticipate possible obstacles and tactical errors in our choices as leaders. We learned the priceless importance of paying attention to detail while also leaving buffers in your plans for errors, and to be thorough in instructions, acquiring information, and making decisions. We learned how land and territory features itself in major considerations of movements and supply, and to never underestimate or overestimate opponents.
The historical contexts provided made us realize the difficulty of having to make hard decisions as an officer and follow orders when you know that outcome might be undesirable or result in the loss of life, but that your role in carrying out your part of task will contribute to the great picture of mission success. In that same line of thought, knowing when you have an ethical obligation to speak up when you have situational knowledge that might impact the orders given or limit collateral damage. The idea of leading by example become totally new, with the realization that sometimes it takes walking across a bridge being peppered with enemy fire to convince your troops to do the same and advance to their objective. During the trip, accompanied by many laughs, tears, good times, wonderful people, and a lot of Blackwatch and Airborne stories, there were also moments when time froze, and we just stood, sharing the air with the anger, evil, cruelty, great leaders, forgotten heroes, and valour of the past.
The brilliant organizational committee for BT17 were:
Prof H Coombs Tour Leader
Mme. Suzanne Roberston Tour Administrator
Prof R Wakelam Directing Staff
Prof GM Boire Directing Staff
The Cadets participating in this enlightening and enriching opportunity were:
27365 III MCLEAN, B 1 Sqn
26822 IV VAZHAYLO, Y esc 2
26902 IV PEET, MR 2 Sqn
26914 III TREMBLAY, JM esc 3
26933 IV PARISIEN, AJY 3 Sqn
27047 III TREMBLAY, JS esc 4
27472 III BRUCE, ER 4 Sqn
27126 IV GIBNEY, RL 4 Sqn
26893 IV HEWSON, MW 4 Sqn
26904 IV DIOTTE, PJR 5 Sqn
27003 IV JOHNSON, BE 5 Sqn
27146 IV THERIAULT, CM 6 Sqn
27359 III MARTIN, ZRT 6 Sqn
27318 III KELLY, B 6 Sqn
27527 III SNAPE, SM 7 Sqn
27148 IV PROSPER, EED 7 Sqn
26929 IV CHOI, FCS 8 Sqn
26926 III COUILLARD, OE esc 8
27070 IV KERR, A 10 Sqn
26944 IV VALAIR, MG 9 Sqn
27051 III SCHONFELDER, M 9 Sqn
27442 III THOMSON, KM 10 Sqn
26750 IV GIRARD, JD 10 Sqn
27370 III MERCIER, A 10 Sqn
27168 IV GRÉGOIRE, MFH esc 12
27383 III NETTIE, CLM 12 Sqn
27117 IV SILK, T 12 Sqn
26935 IV SIMARD, J ALOY
The staff, faculty, and friends of RMC also chosen to attend the trip were:
Nicole Bérubé (DCS/Mgt/Econ Faculty)
Pierre Bissonnette (Mech/Aero Eng Staff)
Arthur Gullachsen (History/MPL Faculty)
Bruce Ewing (HQ MPG)
Nathalie Lebrun (MPL Staff)
Bryan Bailey (RMC Club)
Jill Carleton (RMC Foundation)
Joel Anderson (RMC Foundation)
Special note of thanks.
A major portion of the 2017 Battlefield Tour was funded through the generous donations of 5586 Ian Mottershead and 5507 Jack Peltier, both from the Class of 1962, as well as funding from the Class of 1966 Endowment that provides support for Academic Travel.
The Battlefield Tour has become a major academic activity that the RMC Foundation funds each year through your generosity. This trip provides the opportunity for more than 25 Officer Cadets each year to attend First and Second World War Canadian battlefields in France and Belgium during February’s Reading Week.
Your continued support of Academic Travel Activities will offer the Officer Cadets this once in a lifetime experience. Donate today to the RMC Foundation in support of the Battlefield Tour.
DE BATAILLE 2017
par 27168 (IV) Marie-Frédérick Grégoire
Lors de la semaine de relâche, 29 étudiants du CMRC ont eu la chance de participer au voyage des Champs de Bataille en France et en Belgique. Depuis le commencement de la session académique en janvier, notre groupe s’est rencontré tous les mercredis soir en préparation pour le voyage. Durant ces sessions, les étudiants et le corps professoral ont présenté au groupe l’historique des différents sites qui ont été visités lors du voyage, soit la vallée de la Somme, Vimy, Saint-Julien, Passchendale, Dieppe et Normandie. Cela nous a permis d’avoir une connaissance générale une fois que nous étions sur place.
Une visite sur les champs de bataille de la Première et la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, où nos soldats canadiens, nos compatriotes et nos frères d’armes ont combattu et perdu la vie, change à jamais une perspective. Je crois que chaque étudiant qui est parti samedi dernier, le 18 février, avait conscience de l’ampleur des guerres. Mais je crois qu’aujourd’hui nous pouvons mieux interpréter, analyser et étudier les décisions tactiques et stratégiques. Mais nous sommes surtout encore plus toucher par les sacrifices de ses hommes tombés au combat. Le voyage des Champs de bataille, c’est une opportunité de se souvenir, d’apprécier et de chérir nos racines ainsi que ceux et celles qui se sont battus pour la liberté de chacun.
J’ai eu la chance de voyager dans le temps, de mettre les pieds où nos Canadiens ont combattu. J’ai eu la chance de mieux comprendre le contexte des batailles, de mieux imaginer les conditions de l’époque et d’avoir une image de l’effort et la complexité des guerres. Avec l’expertise de nos professeurs, nous avons observer, analyser et revécu les combats, les avancés, les victoires et les échecs canadiens. Notre présence sur les lieux même nous a permis de remettre en question beaucoup de nos concepts d’éthique, de souveraineté, de liberté et de sacrifice. Ce voyage nous a permis d’agrandir nos connaissances et de développer une nouvelle conscience générale. En revenant au Collège militaire dimanche dernier, j’avais la tête remplie de souvenir, mais surtout le cœur rempli de reconnaissance. De la reconnaissance pour les efforts, le dévouement et l’amour de la patrie que nos compatriotes ont délivrée en France et en Belgique.
Je tiens à remercier, au nom de tous les étudiants participants, le Fondation des anciens pour avoir financé ce voyage unique. Grâce à vous, nous avons grandi par l’expérience du voyage ainsi que par l’enseignement de connaissance. Ce voyage est certainement un atout et une chance unique pour chaque individu qui y participe.
By: OCdt Eliza Bruce, (III, CSC), 27472
My men are strewn, cursed before
we met that land marked by war.
Ne pleurez pas pour les patriotes—
pleurez pour les frères.
The fields are littered with scarecrows,
scaring the sky with their death throes.
Vos églises sont cachées dans le brouillard,
mais jamais vos cicatrices.
Strategies pecked off by enemy snipers,
the hills consumed by enemy vipers.
La grange aux champs de bataille;
from battlefield to farm.
We stormed the beaches and their battlements
lined the beaches with our sacrificial blood
carved into the rocks our bones.
We’ll stand together until together we lie in the ground, boys.
C’est ne pas juste de mourir.
C’est seulement la transaction de la guerre.
Il n’y a pas de repos pour les vertueux.
Dans la mort, tous sont rendus égaux.
Les larmes tombent quand il pleut.
Nos noms sont « inconnu ».
So take it not lightly, we who fell
from peace in the summer
to heaven’s own hell.